In a recent Baptist Press article titled “When people criticize church leadership”, Thom Rainer took on the task of addressing why it is that
The level and frequency of criticisms toward pastors and other leaders has increased significantly in the past several years.
Thom’s observations begin with:
First, the standards of church membership have been low in many churches for many years. As a consequence our churches have more and more unregenerate members. Frankly, I would be not be surprised if some of the most vitriolic criticisms come from those who are not Christians.
I’ve heard this line of reasoning offered by several professional pastors so its hardly surprising that Thom would offer this as his initial point. What is surprising is the amount of arrogance required to sustain such a position. Who is Thom or anyone else to call into question anyone else’s commitment to Christ? Oh sure, we could if the person in question fit any of the Biblical criteria for doing so, but as far as Thom is concerned, merely asking questions is enough grounds to call into question one’s salvation.
Second, church members have been unwilling to take a stand when they see and hear unwarranted criticism toward the pastor and other leaders. This silence is shameful and sinful. Belligerent critics remain critics often because other church members are fearful of rebuking them. In some ways, the silent majority is just as wrong as the constant critics.
I’m not sure what churches Thom has been to, but in my experience quite the opposite is true. A member of the congregation is expected to face considerable odds if they wish to even raise a question regarding their pastor or leadership. And when they do, there is an inevitable wall of deacons and other groupies that usually descend on them like jackals to corral them back into line. This is what most pastors consider “unity”.
The first seven verses of Acts 6 tell the story of complaining by a group in the early church. In this case, the concern was warranted because a group of widows was being neglected. The Twelve appointed seven men to take care of the widows and thus, stopped the criticisms.
Though it may not be the central thrust of the text, we see clearly that a divided and critical congregation was a serious concern for early church leaders. The ministry had to continue, and the divisiveness had to stop. We also see that the entire congregation had a stake in this issue (verse 5, “The proposal pleased the whole company”). There was no sinful and silent majority unwilling to tackle this issue.
This exposes a common trait among professional church leaders. Thom assumes here, with admittedly no Biblical support, that the primary focus of church life is on the leaders. So much for that whole bit about the greatest being servants and all that jazz. No sir, that’s not the sort of stuff that will allow pastors to build massive churches based off of the tax free donations of others.
At least in principle, the solutions are simple. The standards of church membership must be held high, and the benefits are numerous beyond just dealing with critics. We can’t expect unregenerate church members to act like Christians.
Apparently regenerate church members are people who don’t cause any waves. They don’t ask questions. In fact, the really regenerate church members are barely distinguishable from zombies.
Its little wonder that churches today are bleeding members left and right. Or that the average “regenerate” church member is unable to answer even the mildest challenge to their faith.
Second, church members must be willing to confront the sinful behavior of the perpetual and ill-intentioned critics. While no church leader should be above legitimate criticisms, the tide has turned too far in the other direction. Criticisms are paralyzing too many good leaders.
Its fascinating that Thom spends so much time assuming that the bulk of criticisms are illegitimate and yet provides no concrete basis on distinguishing between the two. In fact, Thom’s remaining article addresses how to throw out what he considers to be threats to the church business. Little, if any, consideration is given to the question of how we are to tell if the pastor and leaders is wrong and what to do if they are.
My guess is that this omission is due to the underlying assumption of most pastors that they are “god’s men” and have somehow been rendered infallible (likely by their supposed special calling and subsequent ordination into the ‘priesthood’).
Even though Thom’s article is almost 100% wrong, it is useful in pointing out one thing. I believe the attitude Thom displays here is a large reason why men like myself steer clear of most institutional churches as much as we can.
Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit. -Matthew 15:14